Want Healthier Babies? Increase Paid Maternity Leave!
Here's an equation that should have some U.S. companies scrambling to reevalutate their parental leave policies. According to a new study of low- and middle-income countries, more maternity leave = better infant health.
That's right. Researchers at McGill and UCLA found that the amount of paid time off after having a baby has a significant impact on infant mortality rates. In fact, for each additional month a woman has paid maternity leave, the study revealed that infant mortality declined by 13 percent.
"A significant number of countries where the vast majority of maternal and child deaths occur provide less than 12 weeks of paid leave to new mothers," said the study's lead author Arijit Nandi. "Our findings suggest that paid maternity leave policies are a potential instrument for reducing preventable child deaths."
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So, what's behind the phenomenon? The researchers say being granted paid leave—with its guarantee of income and job security—may reduce a woman's stress level, a risk factor in preterm birth and low birth weight. They also point to the fact that a woman who takes time off is more likely to continue breastfeeding and make sure her baby's vaccines are up to date. Plus, she'll have more time to seek medical attention for herself, if needed, and more time to care for a sick child.
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Yet while 188 countries have guaranteed paid leave for new mothers, the amount of time varies greatly. In Canada, for example, women get one year of paid time off, while here in the U.S. we have no guaranteed paid parental leave at all—something Dr. Jody Heymann, another of the study's authors, hope to see change.
"For the health of our children and the well-being of families, the U.S. needs to catch up with most of the world and ensure all new parents have paid parental leave," she said.